Sex and the Abuse of Power: DSK’s Supporters Blame the Victim

Former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was granted bail on Thursday. Accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid last Saturday, he is to be freed from Rikers Island prison on $1 million cash bail and $5 million insurance and will stay under 24-hour-surveillance at a Manhattan apartment rented by his wife Anne Sinclair, an American-born French TV journalist. Strauss-Kahn will wear an ankle monitor and an armed guard will be posted outside the apartment, says the New York Times. His lawyers are arguing consensual sex as a defense.

Now that Strauss-Kahn has resigned from his position as head of the IMF, one name mentioned has been that of the French finance minister, Christine LaGarde. As the Guardian says, countries like China and Brazil are calling for a non-European to take the position. In the wake of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, the fact that LaGarde is a woman is a “selling point,” the New York Times says. In such a role, LaGarde would be the first woman to head a large international financial institution.

Strauss-Kahn has been indicted by a grand jury on several first-degree felony counts including committing a criminal sex act, attempted rape and sexual abuse. In this week’s TIME Magazine, Nancy Gibbs asks what’s going with powerful men – prior to his arrest on Saturday Strauss-Kahn had been the leading contender to be the Socialist candidate for France’s upcoming presidential election – behaving “so badly”? Gibbs writes:

…the arrest of Strauss-Kahn in New York City for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid has ignited a fierce debate over sex, law, power and privilege. And it is only just beginning. The night of Strauss-Kahn’s arraignment, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that the reason his wife Maria Shriver walked out earlier this year was the discovery that he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with a former member of the household staff. The two cases are far apart: only one man was hauled off to jail. But both suggest an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. And both involve men whose long-standing reputations for behaving badly toward women did not derail their rise to power. Which raises the question: How can it be, in this ostensibly enlightened age, when men and women live and work as peers and are schooled regularly in what conduct is acceptable and what is actionable, that anyone with so little judgment, so little honor, could rise to such heights?

Grappling with such contradictions, the French newspaper Le Monde says that France itself has been suffering from “cognitive dissonance” in the wake of Strauss-Kahn’s tumultuous fall from the corridors of power to that of a “perp” in handcuffs under NYPD surveillance. In France, a majority of people think that the alleged assault is part of a “conspiracy” against Strauss-Kahn, says the newspaper Le Monde. 70% of Socialists believe in the conspiracy. More than a few have been blaming the victim, a 32-year-old African immigrant. Said Socialist leader Jean-Marie Ayrault:

“In this affair, we know there is a victim, but we don’t know yet if this victim is the plaintiff, or the accused.” “(Dans cette affaire, nous savons qu’il y a une victime, mais nous ne savons pas encore si cette victime est la plaignante, ou l’accusé.)”

At Think Progress, Marie Diamond describes the outraged response of Ben Stein in the American Spectator. Stein goes right ahead and impugns the hotel maid, says Diamond:

After expressing confidence in her character — “I am sure she is a fine woman” — he proceeded to suggest exactly the opposite:

“On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?”

Stein also sharply questioned the maid’s allegation, insinuating that she was a willing partner and suggesting that someone can only really be sexually assaulted if a gun or knife is involved.

“Real” sexual assault is only when there’s a gun or knife involved: That’s a premise worth of at least one blog post on its own, but I’m going to stick to reviewing examples of the rush to defend Strauss-Kahn and to defame the hotel maid. French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy — a friend of Strauss-Kahn — is equally up in arms about the treatment of Strauss-Kahn in the The Daily Beast:

It would be nice to know, and without delay — how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet. [...]

Levy also labels Tristane Banon, the French journalist who says she was sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn during an interview in 2007, as taking advantage of the French politician’s current plight:

I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.

Defending Strauss-Kahn, Paris regional councillor Michèle Sabbon has said, “I am convinced it is an international conspiracy … This is a new form of political assassination” (BBC).

Commenting on her statement, the political website Rue89 says that “her declarations would make you laugh if the case were not at such a sordid and tragic point” (“les déclarations pourraient faire rire si l’affaire n’était à ce point sordide et tragique”).

Sordid, yes, as are the additional details of Strauss-Kahn’s alleged assaults on other women including Banon and a maid in Mexico. As horrifying as the details of Strauss-Kahn’s alleged assault of the maid are, the response to her suffering has not exactly shown the kinder side of human nature. 

To return to Gibbs’s analysis of Strauss-Kahn:

Barely two weeks before his arrest, he had a quiet conversation with Libération editors and admitted that the three obstacles if he were to run for President would be “money, women and being a Jew.” In fact, until the Sofitel scandal, the political challenge facing DSK was less his lechery than his lifestyle; it’s hard to be a Socialist icon living the life of a plutocrat. Photographs of him climbing into a friend’s $142,000 Porsche caused a furor, raising charges on the left that he was a “champagne Socialist.” He even sued a Paris tabloid for writing that he was outfitted by a Washington tailor whose suits are reported to run for anywhere from $7,000 to $35,000 apiece.

This was, in other words, a man of great contradictions with a great deal to lose, and his defenders and like-minded conspiracy theorists were quick to suspect a setup.

Ben Stein aside, many Americans have expressed bafflement at the uproar in French over Strauss-Kahn’s arrest. What has especially troubled many of us (myself certainly) is the notion that “because of who he was” — a powerful French politician, a man whose decisions could affect the state of the world economy — he should be treated as, well, “not your average perp.” I’ve simply found the attacks by Stein and many in France on the hotel maid hard to stomach; as Gibbs says:

Of course, if the charges prove true, the most fragile and vulnerable among us will seem to have been his [Strauss-Kahn's] preferred targets, in this case a maid who, had this happened in Paris rather than New York, would likely have thought long and hard before daring to report even a violent attack by a man in a $3,000 suite. If the French elite were appalled that an illustrious man, convicted thus far of no crimes, could be treated this way, Americans were appalled that he expected to be treated differently.

Already Strauss-Kahn is about to return to that different treatment he is accustomed to, a rented Manhattan apartment that is most likely far more luxurious than anything the hotel maid has ever lived in, or similar to where she is staying now. As outraged as many in France felt to see Strauss-Kahn in cuffs, the suffering — the terror — the hotel maid must have felt in a penthouse room in a Manhattan hotel, and the uncertainty she must be experiencing to find her life thrown upside down, cannot be compared.


Previous Care2 Coverage

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Arrest Throws France, European Debt Talks Into Crisis

Photo by World Trade Organization


Wynn M Chapman
Wynn M Chapman6 years ago

Innocent until proven guilty ... just like Polanski hey, who manages to have escaped his legal punishment. Both he and DSK are rich, powerful and sexual predators.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari L6 years ago

By now the lawyers and investigators working for DSK, have splattered the media with any dirt possible alleging the maid is the perp and DSK an innocent victim! And as usual, the meida follows the leader and print anything without checking sources or facts.

Tristan Banone, accused DSK four years ago for attempted rape. His name was erased from the interview before it aired, to protect the great man!

When we allow trials to take place in the media and rich men to demonize victims, we have come a long way from the principals of fair trials and perceptions of innocent before proven guilty!

With the tactics of DSKs legal team, it makes me question the reliability of the juidicial system of the US. It seems they have fallen for all the "dirt" dug up of the victim.

We haven't seen the last of this case, but I hope that this is the last of this kind of legal defence tactics. It brings shame to the whole legal system, when suspects are allowed to take away the honor of a victim.

Walter W.
Walter Waldman6 years ago

According to his lawyer, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was not present at the alleged sexual assault. Shortly thereafter, this claim was amended to reflect that the alleged sexual assault, at which he was not present, was indeed "consensual sex". It is somewhat incredulous that he was able to accomplish this while away. Perhaps we could obtain a clearer explanantion of this phenomenon if Mr. Strauss-Kahn were transferred to Guantanamo where we have enjoyed great success in obtaining clearer accounts of events.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Why was the maid in his room? Doing her job. Blame the victim for being in the wrong place at the wrong time is just as bad as telling the family of a drunk driving victim that their loved one shouldn't have been out, that (s)he'd still be alive because then the drunk wouldn't have hit them. In this case, the drunk is the rapist.

Bibi Sarangabataanan

There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

Kim B. C.
Kim B. C.6 years ago

HER JOB- that's what she was doing in his room.
What if he saw her in the hallway and called her over with the guise of towels or something he needed, it's her job to help him.
Jumping to the conclusion that she was there because she wanted to be assaulted is ridiculous. There are cameras everywhere. This will all be figured out.
She's not going to make any money off this, nor is she going to be happy about going through the process of being put on the stand and going to trial to accuse him. No one wants to be in the middle of a trial when the shame factor on the woman's part will be a huge cost. If he did this, it is a humiliating thing that you need nerves of steel to get through. It's not a fun or happy thing to go through a trial after the humiliation she has suffered. He has done this before and will do it again , no matter what the outcome of the trial. The accounts sound particularly brutal.
And they dont' send lots of maids together into one room.
Each maid shares a cart with the other maids. It doesn't matter that she was alone- she wasn't asking for a sexual assault because she went to do her job. She's 32, a woman should be safe to do her job where ever she is. This is a nice hotel, there is no reason she should be worried about a rich pervert at her age. But men of his stature and wealth can make things go away very easily with their lawyers if it's all about money, which is not the case.

Michael John N.
M,chael N6 years ago

Just wondering what the maid was doing in his room?

Jackie Agusta
Jackie Agusta6 years ago

Innocent until proven guilty, he will have his day in court, we will all just have to wait and see :-(

Adele B.
Past Member 6 years ago

I watched Dominique Strauss-Kahn's face when he was in court and he didn't look at all concerned. Perhaps he believes that he will get off scot free. I listened as a writer/journalist (I forgot his name)defended him on CNN. It seems like the media are on Kahn's side. Why is it so hard for them to believe that someone--yes, a maid would not welcome this man's advances? Why is it so hard to believe that he may have assaulted her? Right now, he is innocent and has to be proven guilty. And I hope that if he is found guilty, that his money and status and friends will not keep him out of jail. He should not be above the law. If he is guilty, the maid should sue the media for defamation of character. Not because she is a maid, it means that she doesn't deserve any respect. Once again, the victim is being blamed for the actions of her attacker. And I thought journalists were supposed to be objective? And for the record, Mr. Ben Stein, sexual assault does not have to involve weapons. Check out Mr. Kahn's size.

Bibi Sarangabataanan

I see that the moderator has deleted Trudi's post. Good. It was vile and obscene.